It’s been wonderful to see the surge of interest and spotlight on Brazil during the Olympics and Paralympics this summer. As my fascination is with home interiors and the designers who make our spaces special, it was only natural that I would want to find out more about the Brazilian furniture designers creating and shaping the homes there.
Keep scrolling for an introduction to four big Brazilian designers from the past who have left a big imprint on the Brazilian design world.
About Brazilian Furniture Design
One thing that strikes me about Brazilian design is the artisan nature of it. Expect to find smooth lines and voluptuous textures channeling a relaxed tropical feel to the furniture. Home to the Amazon rainforest, it’s not surprising that much Brazilian furniture uses rich local textures and grains. However, many of the older pieces use local woods that are now endangered, making them truly unique and unlike anything you will find elsewhere.
Brazilian Furniture Designers
Sergio Rodrigues (1927-2014)
A Rio de Janeiro native, Rodrigues is the godfather of Brazilian furniture design.
He’s famous for using many of the woods and materials of his homeland, including the lumber of the jacaranda tree.
Rodriguess ‘Mole’ Chair, which was a huge success immediately following its release in the late 50s. Even today, it remains a popular design. It is a low slung and relaxed chair, and its name means soft in Portuguese, to give you an idea of how it might feel to relax into it. His furniture company Oca was influential in home design throughout the country.
Jorge Zalszupin (b. 1922)
Another important designer from the 20th century is Jorge Zalszupin.
His furniture company, L’Atelier, was founded along with a group of cabinet makers. With its position as a favorite for residential and commercial furniture makers, it was a rival to Rodrigues’ Oca.
Zalszupin was originally from Poland, moving to Brazil in 1949 after the Second World War. He changed his name from Zerzy to Jorge upon acquiring citizenship, and assimilated with ease into the Brazilian way of life.
Jose Zanine Caldas (1919-2001)
Considered a master of wood, Caldas was also an architect and designer. Zanine Caldas originally worked with plywood during his time creating architectural models. But by learning how to use the material and shaping it in his favor, he realized the strength and abilities of applying it to producing furniture in great numbers.
Also an architect, it was important for him to create harmony with furniture and its environment with his work. Later in life he developed an interest in the natural curves of wood. However, knowing how important and precious resources can be, he was also a keen proponent of forest protection, and planted a tree for every one he cut down.
Many of his pieces were ultimately made from felled wood. Beyond furniture design, Caldas also created sculpture and art.
Joaquim Tenreiro (1906-1992)
Tenreiro’s furniture used many of the native Brazilian hardwoods. He also had a fascination with wicker. It’s a great alternative to heavy patterns and cushions when you want to tackle the heat.
He created many custom designs for star architect Oscar Niemeyer. Niemeyer in fact worked with many of these designers, but I mention him now as Niemeyer was one of Tenreiro’s biggest clients.
The mid-century modern designs featured here have many of the aesthetics and feelings of the organic and simple furniture that emerged after the Second World War. While similar to Scandinavian styles, the dark solid woods and unusual forms mark themselves out as unique and different. While the majority of designers who worked in the 20th century have now passed on, their furniture remains popular. You can still get hold of their furniture, through auctions and sales. What’s more, Brazilian furniture specialists Espasso continue with the faithful production of their designs. They have done great work in preserving many of the styles, whilst simultaneously supporting the new class of Brazilian designers, including Carlos Motta and Zanine Caldas’ son Zanini de Zanine.